Meditation for Performance
As athletes and coaches, we are always trying to find ways to improve performance. Often, we get caught up in different methodologies, supplements, techniques and tactics. Although all these things are useful, they can also be overly complicated and stressful.
The best athletes in the world know that 90% of sport is played above the shoulders. Physical ability is obviously important, however, what is often overlooked is that the mind drives the body. A strong mind creates a strong body. One of the best ways to strengthen your mind is through meditation.
The absolute best athletes all use mindfulness/mind training to help them Prepare-Perform-Recover.
Focus – Do you ever find it hard to concentrate when you’re on the sporting field? Do you sometimes lose attention or get caught up in the play instead of focusing on your role? Being dialled in can be the difference between hitting a game winner and a game costing turn over. Thankfully, meditation has been shown to improve focus even in high stress situations. Practicing meditation off the field can help sharpen your focus when you’re on the field.
Memory – Long term meditation has been shown to improve sustained gamma-activity (Jensen, O., Kaiser, J., & Lachaux, J.,2007). Gamma brain waves helps us with information processing, basic focus and memory retention. Improving these areas of your brain would have a big impact on how you ‘read the play’, staying focused on your role and remembering the game plan.
Reaction time – A large component of being an agile athlete is the ability to react to an external stimulus. Being able to quickly react to a play or an opponent can often be the difference in a break away play or stopping the opposition from scoring. Meditation has been shown to improve transition time between one attention to another (reacting).
Mental grit – All too often athletes can get caught overthinking, which the fast-paced nature of sport doesn’t really allow. Meditation has been shown to help the brain slow down and reduce overthinking. This can help you let go of bad plays and stay present.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) – HRV is the variation in time between each heartbeat. This variation is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which regulates heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and digestion among other things. The ANS has two subdivisions the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems otherwise known as the fight-or-flight and rest & digest systems. Training hard and playing sport kicks athletes into fight-or-flight mode, to promote recovery you need to transition to the rest & digest system. Meditation has been shown to improve this transition making it easier for you to recover between hard training sessions and games.
Pain management – Getting injured or just banged up is all part and parcel in playing sport. With meditation training you can reduce your pain intensity by 40% and reduce your pain unpleasantness by 57%.
Sleep – In our opinion sleep is the absolute best form of recovery. Meditation can help you improve sleep quality therefore maximising your ability to recover.
How to start meditation
You don’t need to go and spend 12 months with a monk in Tibet to learn how to mediate. There are so many app’s and resources that make it incredibly easy to integrate meditation into your daily routine. The best app we have found is Headspace (https://www.headspace.com).
Simply download the app for free or pay for a subscription to get access to 1000’s of different meditations. Choose a time of day and location for when you want to meditate, to really make it a habit choose the same time and location everyday (it’s ok if this has to change but keeping it consistent helps the habit stick). Start with 1-3 minutes a day (everyone has at least 1 minute/day to spare), as you get more comfortable increase the time – 5 > 10 > 15 minutes and so on. 10 minutes a day is more than enough to get the benefits of meditation.
Meditation is not just for Yogi’s and Monks, EVERYONE can benefit from a regular meditation practice. All you have to do is find a quiet place and start.